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Activists Seek to Block Homes

Adams Canyon: Development opponents push their own ballot measure. Builder says the project would help Santa Paula's economy.

April 05, 2002|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Paula growth-control activists are launching an attempt to derail a November ballot proposal that would allow for construction of 2,250 homes in neighboring Adams Canyon.

The activists are proposing to place the Adams Canyon Agricultural Preservation Initiative on the fall ballot. If approved, the measure would amend Santa Paula's General Plan to prohibit development in the canyon northwest of the city.

Resident Mike Miller, who is helping spearhead the counter-initiative, said Pinnacle Development's plan would more than double the geographic size of Santa Paula, creating more traffic and other problems for the small blue-collar city of 30,000. The new suburb would include hotels, golf courses, two schools and a shopping complex.

"They're basically saying 'We can have our way with this small town,' " Miller said. "I take exception to that."

But Greg Boyd, project manager of the Arizona-based developer, said activists such as Miller are taking an extreme position. He said the city needs more development to help prop up the local economy.

"[Activists] don't ever want to see another house built," he said. "We don't think that's healthy. The city's dying, and without some growth and economic opportunity, we think it's going to get even worse."

The 5,413-acre canyon, with its orange groves, herds of cattle and oaks scattered between its rugged hillsides, provides a serene backdrop to an increasingly heated battle over its future.

In 1998, Santa Paula revised its General Plan to accommodate future growth in Adams Canyon. But that revision sparked a Department of Justice investigation over whether the city's at-large voting system perpetuated racial discrimination against Latinos running for City Council.

As part of a settlement with the federal government, the city will ask voters in November to decide whether to carve up the city into council districts.

Activists argued that building luxury canyon homes would primarily attract rich whites and bolster a white power structure, despite Latinos making up two-thirds of the city's population. They also argued the development would forever change the city's character and drain resources from crumbling neighborhoods and struggling Main Street shops.

But the City Council pressed forward, with the majority convinced that upscale housing was the only way to reinvigorate the city's lagging tax and business base. In 2000, the Local Agency Formation Commission gave a green light to the city's preliminary expansion plans.

Later that year, however, slow-growth activists convinced a majority of the city's voters to adopt a measure that effectively blocked the Adams Canyon development. The Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative established a growth boundary around the city.

Any proposed development outside that boundary would require voter approval before it could be annexed into the city.

Last year Pinnacle, working with canyon landowner Arnold R. Dahlberg, began asking residents for input on the development proposal called The Ranch at Santa Paula. The developer also sought suggestions on parks and affordable housing that would be included if its project were approved.

Last month, Pinnacle announced its campaign to place a measure on the fall ballot that would essentially redraw the SOAR growth-control boundary to accommodate Adams Canyon.

On Wednesday, the SOAR coalition, which includes Miller, Latino activist Bob Borrego and City Councilman John Procter, fired back and announced that it would launch its own initiative. If successful, the measure would take Adams Canyon out of the city's General Plan, making the outcome of Pinnacle's ballot initiative irrelevant.

Miller said amending the city's General Plan is a natural extension of the SOAR campaign of two years ago. "The first thing out of the mouths of these developers when they came to town was, 'Hey we're just doing what's called for in your General Plan,' " Miller said. "The General Plan should be in accord with the [SOAR] line."

Boyd called the SOAR coalition hypocritical. "First, it was 'We think voters should have to approve it.' Now, it's 'We want to establish it once and for all that voters can never approve anything,' " he said. "You could go back and forth with this forever."

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